Go to your users? Smule does it in the streets of San Francisco


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One of the most interesting speeches at YCombinator’s Startup School was by the CEO/founder of AirBnB, Brian Chesky. You can watch that here.

In that speech Brian detailed how AirBnB kept failing until he did one thing: took a tour to get close to the customers and learn more about what they wanted. “Go to your users,” Paul Graham, head of YCombinator told him to see if he could get Brian to move AirBnB into a successful business. Brian took the advice and did a world-wide tour and just tried to meet users around the world. Every entrepreneur should listen to this speech. He made some slight changes and the company started taking off. If you want to hear about that part of the story, fast forward to about minute 16.

Anyway, last night I was at the Apple store. I needed a hard drive and I didn’t have time to wait for Amazon to ship me one. I didn’t even have time to go down to Fry’s to save $40.

One aside about Apple. Last night it took me 67 seconds to walk in, go up the set of stairs, find the hard drive I wanted, hand my credit card to an Apple employee (he took it right there on the spot), and walk out. Why does Apple sell more per square foot than any other retailer? Might have something to do with just how easy it is to buy something.

Anyway, when outside I was caught up in a crowd of people listening to some weird band playing on iPads. I got closer and thought it was most cool. Here was about 10 people playing violins on iPads. I get closer and one of the guys was Jeff Smith, CEO of Smule. I turned on my iPhone and interviewed him. Then I watched.

Smule is a company that builds apps for iPhone and iPad. The newest one is called “Magic Fiddle” which teaches you to play violin. In the interview Jeff Smith demos it for me and the crowd standing on the street in San Francisco.What was he doing? Going to his users. Celebrating with them. They just hit number one in the iTunes store. Handing out T-shirts. Listening to feature requests. In fact, he asked people “please tell me the songs you want to see in Magic Piano.”

I love that the nearly the entire Smule team was there. In the street. Working the crowd. Finding out what people want, thinking about their next app. Even taking some abuse for blocking the sidewalk.

You wanna know how to make your startup better? Take Paul Graham’s advice. Go to your users!

Got any examples of how companies you love went to their users? Let me know! scobleizer@gmail.com